The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 234: It's Important To Do These Things With Flare

A Webley & Scott MkIII plare pistol

The Cottswold loafed through the sky, her five finely tuned diesels turning over at minimum power. In the airship's mess hall, MacKiernan gazed at the Pacific and tried to control his impatience. He'd long since given up trying to guess when Commodore Clark would announce a destination. The Commodore's approach to investigation seemed to involve cruising about aimlessly while waiting for information to drop in his lap.

Could this all be some sort of pose? the Irishman asked himself. The evidence was ambiguous. It was difficult to imagine Clark in the role of a spider, at the center of some vast web of intrigue, but the man had shown a remarkable tendency to stumble upon clues... which he showed an equally remarkable tendency to ignore. It seemed more likely that Michaelson was the spider. The senior captain had as much as said he was working with Naval Intelligence, and he'd also admitted to a connection with the Kaiser's intelligence services. And if Michaleson was involved, Miss Perkins could well be his agent, feeding information to Clark at the man's direction. MacKiernan had seen evidence of her skill in these matters the previous year, and the memory still hurt.

Did she ever really care about me? he wondered. Does that 'r´┐Żach colleen even know her own heart?

His reflections were interrupted by a cough behind him. He turned to see Adley, the Commodore's aide, standing in the doorway. "Excuse me, Mister MacKiernan," said the signalman, "but the Commodore would like to see you in the control car."

MacKiernan found Clark studying a copy of the Almanac. The Commodore looked dissatisfied with the text. "We've received word that a vessel resembling our quarry has called at the Ternate," he announced. "What do you know about the place?"

As a navigation officer, it was MacKiernan's job to have such information at his fingertips. "It's a moderate-sized volcanic island north of the Banda Sea, sir," he replied. "The Dutch East India Company uses it as their administrative center for the Mollucas. They took it from the Spanish back in the Eighteenth Century. I believe it's still the world's major producer of cloves."

"Ah yes," mused Clark, "that would be the connection."

MacKiernan did his best not to look incredulous. "You think these fellows after spices, sir?"

"These are a valuable commodity, Mister MacKiernan," the Commodore said knowingly. "We will call at the Station and make some inquiries."


The records at Ternate's air station proved annoyingly uninformative. They noted that a two million cubic foot airship registered as the N-109 had arrived on the 14th of May and departed two days later, but gave no details regarding the vessel's cargo, crew, or destination. This was not surprising. Like all monopolies, the VOC was not in the business of making things easy for its customers.

"Where do you want to go today?" MacKiernan asked Miss Perkins as they left the building.

The secretary glanced at Clark and his men, who seemed to be puzzling over a map. "I don't think we're likely to accomplish much if we remain with the Commodore's party," she observed dryly. "Perhaps we should visit the village market. I doubt Clark's people will think to investigate the place, but if the fellows we're pursuing went there for provisions, we might be able to find someone who remembers them."

MacKiernan smiled and offered her his arm. "An excellent suggestion, mo mhuirnin. I would be happy to escort you."

The trip from the Station to the market was like a journey down the socio-economic ladder. With each block they travelled, the quality of the neighborhoods declined, well-maintained colonial houses giving way to battered warehouses, grimy shops, decaying hovels, and rubbish-strewn alleys. MacKiernan found himself wishing he was armed. He'd have brought his Service revolver, but the local authorities frowned on such things.

As they were passing an abandoned fruit stand, two burly seamen lunged at them from the shadows. One pinned Miss Perkins by the arms and grabbed her handbag while the other closed on MacKiernan.

"Look, Bertie!" said the first thug. "The little tart 'ad 'erself a gun!" He held up a .25 calibre Webley & Scott pocket pistol, sneered, and flung it into the weeds. "Fat lot o' good it did 'er!"

The second thug menaced MacKiernan with a club. "You'll clear out if'n you know what's good for you."

The Irishman raised his fists. "Let the lady go."

The thug grinned. "Your funeral, mate."

MacKiernan measured up his opponent. It was clear this would not be an easy fight. The man was big, heavily muscled, and had the scarred knuckles and battered face of an experience brawler. But he might be vulnerable to science. The Irishman began to edge left, forcing the man to turn towards his weak side to face him. If he could catch the fellow off-balance, he might be able to land a telling blow. Unfortunately the other man seemed familiar with this maneuver. He edged left as well, keeping his club at ready. MacKiernan's heart sank. These men were no amateurs.

For several long seconds, the only sound was the scuff of feet against dirt as the two adversaries circled for position. For an instant, MacKiernan thought he saw an opening. He stepped forward, feinted with his left, then slammed his right fist into the man's stomach. It was like hitting a block of oak -- an unwanted testimony to the strength of an English constitution. He barely managed to dodge the return blow.

"That the best you've got, mate?" laughed the thug.

"No," lied MacKiernan. "I'm just warming up."

The two combatants were interrupted by sound of someone clearing his throat.

"Ahem."

They turned to see Adley holding a Very pistol. "You might do well to surrender," he warned the thugs.

"Hah," spat one, "that's just a flare gun."

"True," admitted Adley. "All it does is fire a chunk of incandescent magnesium, blazing at 5600 degrees, with a muzzle velocity of 230 feet per second. I imagine you'll shrug this off with no more than a few third-degree burns."

The two men glanced at each other. "Right," said one. "We surrender."


"I've spoken with our new passengers," Adley reported some time after they'd returned to the airship. "They are petty criminals, with a rather sorry record back in England. They were quite willing to answer questions in exchange for a reduced sentence."

"Why did they try to kidnap Miss Perkins?" asked Commodore Clark. "Did they have any particular reason for singling her out?"

"Not as far as I could determine, sir," said Adley, "but it appears the idea was spawned by an earlier incident. Three days ago, an anonymous female passenger from a visiting airship hired them to stage a similar attack, then withdraw when a crewman appeared to rescue her."

MacKiernan scratched his head. Something about this story seemed familiar. "I take it this woman came from the N-109?" he asked.

"We cannot know for sure," said the signalman, "but the timing is consistent with this hypothesis."

"Excellent work, Adley!' the Commodore announced. "This confirms that the fellows are up to no good! And I have a good idea where to find them!"

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. It was clear she was just as surprised by this development as he was.

Next week: Don't Mind Me, I'm Just The Help...

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